Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Franzen’

Monday Medley

What we read while the Emmys honored Jeff Daniels sarcastically…

Monday Medley

What we read while trying to find Ann Romney a job…

Monday Medley

What we read while Joseph Kony stood up to his cyberbullies…

Monday Medley

What we read while Billy Crystal sang…

The Art of Fielding and Fictionalizing History

“What happened to Steve Blass? Nobody knows, but some speculation is permissible—indeed, is perhaps demanded of anyone who is even faintly aware of the qualities of Steve Blass and the depth of his suffering. Professional sports have a powerful hold on us because they display and glorify remarkable physical capacities, and because the artificial demands of games played for very high rewards produce vivid responses. But sometimes, of course, what is happening on the field seems to speak to something deeper within us; we stop cheering and look on in uneasy silence, for the man out there is no longer just another great athlete, an idealized hero, but only a man—only ourself. We are no longer at a game.”

—Roger Angell, “Gone for Good,” June 1975

Nobody knows. Even 35 years later, nobody knows what happened to Steve Blass, why, after his best season in the major leagues, Steve Blass lost the ability to pitch. Blass was, historically speaking, the first in a list of infamous players that now includes Mackey Sasser, Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch, and Rick Ankiel—baseball players who suddenly and inexplicably could no longer do simple tasks that they had long ago perfected.

Sports, as Chad Harbach points out at one point in The Art of Fielding, create a strange paradox between the art they aspire to and the artless, thoughtless repetition required to best attain it. Baseball, just like any other sport, relies heavily on muscle memory and on keeping your brain as far out of your physical movements as possible. KISS, we all hear at some Little League practice: keep it simple, stupid.

Harbach’s much-anticipated debut novel—it isn’t often first-timers get six-figure advances these days—adds another name to that ignominious list with Henry Skrimshander, a balletic shortstop for Division III Westish College in lakeshore Wisconsin. Harbach’s novel essentially takes its cue from Roger Angell’s oft-praised (and deservedly so) profile of Blass from 1975: What happens to a baseball player when he loses the ability to play baseball? What happens when your self-definition dissolves?*

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Monday Medley

What we read while assigning baseball allegiances to past assassins…

  • If we were to begin a series of old, esoteric interviews, this one from the Paris Review of Jorge Luis Borges would be a good starting point. Learn, among other things, what Borges’ favorite fabricated English word is. Unfortunately, while discussing the origin of character names, he does not bring up our resident sports revolutionary.

Monday Medley

What we read while telling WikiLeaks they couldn’t use our server….

  • John Paul Stevens was interviewed on 60 Minutes.  Even more interesting is the full transcript of his April interview with Jeffrey Rosen.

Monday Medley

What we read while dabbling in witchcraft….

Freedom, Franzen, and the Modern Middle Class

As you probably guessed, Freedom is not free

What if, long after the time when you could reasonably consider yourself young, you came to discover that you had lived the wrong kind of life? That you had married the wrong person, worked at the wrong job, or raised your kids the wrong way? It’s probably fair to say that this realization would constitute a kind of living nightmare.

And yet, if freedom exists and we are all ultimately responsible for the choices we make, there is a very realistic chance that such a nightmare could become real. After all, we can’t expect every free person to make all the right decisions all of the time. What happens when free individuals make the wrong choices?

This is the question Jonathan Franzen explores in his new novel, Freedom, his long-awaited follow-up to The Corrections. Like that novel, this one is about a Midwestern family that’s trying to flee the Midwest. When we are introduced to the Berglunds—Walter and Patty—they are a Rockwellesque family living in suburban St. Paul. They are early pioneers in the gentrification process, and a quiet mix of acceptable liberalism (Walter’s an environmentalist who works for the Nature Conservancy) and old-fashioned family values (rather than working, Patty stays home and bakes cookies for the neighborhood).

But, like all Rockwellian veneers, there are many things beneath the surface, and they grow to undermine the family’s suburban splendor. Joey, one of the Berglunds’ perfect children, begins to terrorize his parents with placid rebellion, and this rebellion gradually pulls at the seams of their marriage. Patty, a former college athlete, viewed her family and her house and her life as primarily an extension of the competition she always thrived on while growing up. Meanwhile, Walter’s devotion to Patty is tinged with the worry that he was always his wife’s second choice; he is also concerned that his suburban life represents a betrayal of his political and environmental ideals. Inevitably, these anxieties over whether they’ve chosen the right kind of life manifest themselves in Walter and Patty’s marriage. At the end of the novel’s opening chapter, one of the Berglunds’ neighbors speculates: “I don’t think they’ve figured out yet how to live.” Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read while Martin Luther King, Jr. was rolling over in his grave….

  • Whiskey may very well be the NPI liquor of choice, so we’re glad to see it in Japan.